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A Driving Tour of Southern California’s Back Roads

A Driving Tour of Southern California’s Back Roads

Perhaps nothing defines Los Angeles like the freeways: ribbons of asphalt and steel (and traffic jams) tying coast, valley and mountains together in a multilane, limited-access web. These highways were considered so essential that planners nearly jammed one right through the center of swanky Beverly Hills.

But it wasn’t always this way. Before the first freeway opened in December 1940, Angelenos got from place to place on lazy two-lane roads that cut through a classic Southern California landscape of hills, canyons, ranches, and orange and avocado farms, some following the original stagecoach routes.

Fortunately, many of these back roads still exist, even if the citrus groves have transmogrified into mostly multimillion-dollar homes. One sunny morning, I set out on a route from my home near the San Fernando Valley to the wine country northwest of Santa Barbara, close to 100 miles away. My mission: to discover the unexpected museums, hundred-year-old restaurants, small towns and other sites that have endured but remained hidden from the cars whizzing by at 75 miles per hour.

1. Plummer House/Leonis Adobe
2. King Gillette Ranch
3. The Old Place
4. Satwiwa Native American Indian Cultural Center
5. Mullin Automotive Museum
6. California Oil Museum
7. Ojai Valley Overlook
8. Boccali’s Pizza and Pasta
9. Lake Casitas
10. Cold Spring Tavern

The off-piste adventure begins by exiting the 101/Ventura Freeway in Calabasas, at the Valley Circle turnoff. The town is home not only to the Kardashians, Kevin Hart and other celebrities, but also to a blue Victorian bungalow once known as the “oldest house in Hollywood,” despite now being many miles from the Walk of Fame. Built in the 1870s, the Plummer House was relocated here in 1983 from what is now Plummer Park in West Hollywood.

The Plummer House sits next to its contemporary, the Leonis Adobe, built for Miguel Leonis, a French Basque immigrant and major Los Angeles landowner nicknamed the King of Calabasas. The two-story adobe brick home with wraparound verandas remains furnished as when it was first occupied in the 1870s. Admission to the Leonis Adobe museum is available on weekends only, at no charge.

A more modern attraction in Old Town Calabasas, a collection of modest clothing shops and eateries that has grown up in the surrounding former farmland, is Sagebrush Cantina, a nearly 50-year-old Mexican restaurant featuring live music and karaoke.

At the intersection of Las…

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